El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is an oddity. It’s a Japanese game inspired on apocryphal religious texts that released basically exactly ten years ago, and it’s been trapped on the PS3/360 hardware generation ever since. It’s also really, really good – a sophisticated, mature action adventure story wrapped up in graphics that have aged incredibly well and nuanced gameplay that goes much deeper than it seems.
So it’s a very good thing that El Shaddai is now more widely available – you can get it from Steam right now for £16.19 – but I wouldn’t blame newcomers for being a little bit unsure of what they’re getting themselves into. So I’m going to break this article down into two major parts. For those of you who’ve yet to play it, we’ll go into just what makes El Shaddai the unique experience it is. Then we’re going to go into the quality of the port, for those of you coming back for more.
El Shaddai: A heavenly tale
If you’re worried that El Shaddai is going to either offend your religious sensibilities or be overly preachy, don’t be. El Shaddai is simply a story; and though it has some obvious basis in Christian legends, it’s not using them to make a point. You are Enoch, an envoy of heaven on a mission to bring seven fallen angels to justice. It takes a lot of material from the Book of Enoch, a religious text not considered canonical by Christianity. Does that make El Shaddai heretical or controversial? Not at all, actually. Unless the fact that angels are depicted wearing jeans is offensive to you.
At first, El Shaddai seems almost basic. You can attack enemies and jump, and that’s about it. But as you fight and platform your way forward, this simple system develops an extraordinary rhythm. Enoch has three weapons he can use to fight his enemies, and each of these weapons has an environmental use too. He can only carry one at once – so no swapping on the fly – but this allows the game to create some truly tailored platforming sections against gorgeous, artistic backdrops.
The world of El Shaddai is unlike anything else you’ll ever experience. It’s not really constrained by typical elements of world design, instead opting to go for something abstract and artistic. Characters have a 3D anime shine to them, but they move in a world defined by a sharp contrast of light and shadow. The world is much more free-form and abstract than any of El Shaddai‘s contemporaries. The art comes first, the practicalities just fleeting, secondary notions.
Everything that El Shaddai needs to tell you, it does organically. The simplest example of this is the health system, represented by the amount of armour on Enoch’s body. The more hits he takes, the more armour falls off, until he’s running around in a state of undress. The condition of his weapons is indicated on screen, too, requiring purification or replacement to remain effective. It’s all just so slick, a remarkably well-considered slice of interactive entertainment that didn’t chase trends or imitate a big hit at the time.
How does the PC port measure up?
And now for the not-so-good news: this is an incredibly barebones port. The absolute bare minimum of work has been done to get it running on PC. Graphics configuration is done via a pre-load window you might miss entirely if you don’t tick the “Screen Setting” option on the splash window, and it looks like it’s straight out of 2011 itself. But we can’t really complain about that too much – once it was all set up El Shaddai ran like a dream, and thanks to the art direction, has barely aged a day.
Slightly less excusable is the lack of input options. There’s no mouse and keyboard support at all. So if you want to play El Shaddai, you’d better have a gamepad. It seems like a bit of an odd thing to get hung up on, especially considering that these types of games are usually miles better with a controller anyway, but many people like to have the option.
Given the price point (and the sheer unique experience El Shaddai‘s gameplay offers) I really can’t be too mad about the basic nature of the port, though. The full retail price on Steam is £19.99, but it’s on offer right now for £16.79. They’re not trying to charge an extortionate amount for it at all, which makes it seem like a really genuine attempt to preserve the game for future generations.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metratron overall thoughts
Which is great, because – inevitable time-based wrinkles aside – this is a work of art. The port to Steam might not be anthing fancy, but it certainly does the job, and now so many more people can experience this mad bit of genius for the first time. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.